By Ari Temkin
Congratulations San Antonio and Bexar County residents, you are proud owners of a professional soccer stadium. Without any vote or input from the public, the City of San Antonio and County of Bexar paid meaningful public funds to underwrite the early efforts of a billion dollar enterprise to attract an MLS team, and no one batted an eye.
This is not unique to San Antonio or Bexar County. For decades, professional sports franchises have asked the public sector to subsidize their arenas, stadiums and parking facilities. These subsidies are sometimes put to a vote, but often it’s the politicians alone who decide on their own. As San Antonio has learned from executives with the Florida Marlins, Jacksonville Jaguars and, lately, the Oakland Raiders, professional teams often threaten, or hint very broadly, that they’ll leave a market unless they receive sweet deals on arenas and stadiums.
A few months ago we were delighted to find out that the city, county and a Spurs-related eneity known as SA FC Management LLC were banding together to help bring Major League Soccer (MLS) to San Antonio. For a city clamoring for more professional sports teams this was viewed as overwhelmingly good news. To begin with, SA FC will field a minor league soccer club called FC San Antonio.
City of San Antonio (COSA) and the County paid Gordon Hartman $18 million to purchase Toyota Field, while the Spurs kicked in $3 million, to Hartman’s charitable Morgan’s Wonderland.
The Toyota Field lease is a 25-year commitment, making the total monetary investment from SS&E $5.5 million. During that lease, SA FC will collect all the income it can generate from a 8,000-seat stadium, money from ticket sales, advertising, concessions and parking — not just for soccer matches, but for concerts and any other entertainment SS&E can book.
SA FC leases Toyota Field from COSA and Bexar County to the tune of $100,000 per year. It’s a great deal if you can get it — of the positives of home ownership, without any of the risk. Plus the landlord, a joint city-county entity called SABC Soccer PFC, agreed to use half of that rental income for the maintenance and improvement of the stadium.
As much goodwill as Peter Holt and the Spurs have in this community for their decades of sustained success, this gift seems to be a bit much.
Just for context, Toyota Field rent is $100,000 per year for a $21 million stadium. Meanwhile, according to documents from the city, Landry’s Restaurant paid $962,613 to rent for the Tower of the Americas last year.
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